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Hochul must continue judge fight or cede power to emboldened leftists

Longtime political warriors warn Gov. Kathy Hochul must keep up the fight for embattled Hector LaSalle to become chief judge — or risk losing control of state government to emboldened lefty progressives.

“Hochul is going to be incapacitated if she doesn’t win this judgeship battle. She’ll be a lame ducker,” former Republican U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato told The Post Thursday.

The crushing rejection of her nominee by fellow Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee is not a good omen for future policy fights — including over public safety, the Republican and others said.

“The left wing has taken over the entire state. How is she going to get any changes to the bail law?,” D’Amato said.

Hochul still has a hail mary chance to get LaSalle put on the state’s highest court, if she goes to court to force the Senate to give the jurist a vote on the floor of the full Senate, where she might with with the help of Republican and conservative Democrat votes.

“If you look at the original composition of that committee before it was changed, there were enough votes to go forward,” the governor said about Senate Democrats packing the committee earlier this month to ensure LaSalle got rejected.

Kathy Hochul.
Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering suing the state Senate for blocking her nomination of Hector LaSalle for chief judge without a floor vote.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutters

Other veteran politicos agreed Hochul’s unprecedented judicial defeat could usher in a new era in state politics dominated by lefty legislators and outside allies like democratic socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who opposed LaSalle’s confirmation. 

 “AOC and the progression faction are smiling today but New York taxpayers probably aren’t,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

“The progressive faction of the Democratic Party is significantly empowered. Hochul is diminished. Any change that is viewed as a shift to the right — like changes to the bail law — will be challenged by the progressives and difficult to achieve.”

Hector LaSalle.
Hector LaSalle testifying at Wednesday’s state Senate judiciary committee meeting on his nomination for chief judge.

The setback is reminiscent of the Democratic-run state Senate’s role in 2019 of scuttling the plan for Amazon to open a massive East Coast headquarters along the Queens waterfront in Long Island City. The project was backed by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio.

But Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), whose district the Amazon campus would have been built in, opposed the project and used his political muscle through a state board to force the e-tail giant to abandon it.

Assembly Republican Minority Leader Will Barclay said the LaSalle confirmation debacle is not a typical tug of war spending fight between the legislature and the executive branch.

“That’s not what we have here. This is about whether or not New York Democrats are going to continue to cave to the woke extremism in their party. A small group of liberal Senators hijacked Judge LaSalle’s nomination,” Barclay said.

“We’ll see if they’re allowed to further hijack the state Democratic Party.”

Hector LaSalle.
Hector LaSalle would be the first Latino elected as chief judge to the Court of Appeals.

Hochul — Hochul told reporters on Thursday her administration is “weighing all our options” on whether to sue — is between a rock and a hard place, government watchers said.

“If Hochul takes the state Senate to court over the LaSalle nomination and loses, it’s a double defeat and she’s further weakened,” said Baruch College public affairs professor Doug Muzzio.

“She’s weakened, no doubt about it. Her power has been seriously diminished.”

And the courts might not look favorably on Hochul’s argument that the constitutional phrase “state senate” requires her nominee to get a floor vote despite getting rejected by the judiciary committee.

Kathy Hochul.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s power could be diminished if she loses fight to select Hector LaSalle as chief judge, political veterans say.

“If that is the extent of her argument, I disagree. The Senate’s power to set cameral rules extends to `advice and consent.’ If The Senate has decided to use a committee proceeding, that is within its authority,” Columbia University Law Professor Jessica Bulman-Pozen said.

Two former governors told The Post Wednesday that Hochul has no choice but to go to court to win back the executive’s authority to select a chief judge.

“This is a very big deal,” former three-term Republican Gov. George Pataki said. “It’s a question of who we have running the state – the governor or radical leftists in the legislature.”

Ex-Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, said, “It’s worse if she leaves it alone and moves on. The LaSalle nomination is bigger than Kathy Hochul.”

He said Hochul has to fight to restore the power over the judicial section for future governors as well as herself.

As it happens, Pataki successfully sued the legislature in a fight over who gets control over writing budget bills. In Pataki v. Silver, the Court of Appeals said it was the governor who had the authority to do so.

Pataki’s architect in that legal fight, counsel James McGuire, believes Hochul will win the court case over LaSalle’s confirmation vote.

“The constitution requires that an appointee must get an up or down vote by the entire Senate. The Senate rules cannot trump the constitution.” McGuire told The Post.

McGuire sent a letter Tuesday to Senate leaders before the judiciary committee vote, claiming a refusal to bring LaSalle’s nomination to the Senate floor was illegal.

He said the U.S. Senate, under the federal constitution, can block the nomination of a Supreme Court justice from coming to the floor, but that does not mean the state Senate can skip a vote.

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